VANCOUVER — It was a Triple-A campaign filled with surprising turns, yet as we reach the Final Four semifinal stage of the 2018 Subway Bowl playoffs, it’s interesting to note that four of the tier’s Big 5 preseason picks are still alive and in the hunt.
While preseason No. 1 Lord Tweedsmuir was knocked out in the quarterfinal round, and preseason honourable mention Vancouver College has performed well beyond expectations, the preseason trio of No. 2 Terry Fox, No. 3 New Westminster and No. 4 Mt. Douglas have all upheld initial expectations.
Here the is our look at Saturday’s two semifinals:
4 p.m. — No. 2 VANCOUVER COLLEGE vs. MT. DOUGLAS
Wanna know how to beat the Vancouver College Fighting Irish this coming Saturday in the Subway Bowl B.C. AAA semifinals?
The only person who can tell you is Lynden (Wash.) head coach Blake VanDalen, but he’s pretty busy these days preparing his Lions for a berth in Saturday’s Washington state Class 2A semifinals against Fife.
As part of what is now a 9-1 overall season, the Irish learned perhaps some of their most valuable lessons of the season when they were battered during a 38-16 loss stateside to the talented Lions back on Oct. 19.
And as improved as Victoria’s Mt. Douglas Rams have been since the return-to-health of quarterback Gideone Kremler and the next-level step taken by his brother, running back Zairech Kremler, these Irish have to be considered substantial favourites as the two teams meet for the sixth time since 2015 (3-2 Mt. Douglas).
“Vancouver College is an extremely challenging team to prepare for because I do not see any weakness in their team,” said Rams’ head coach Mark Townsend earlier this week.
“Their defence is formidable,” said Townsend of a group which stifled Mt. Douglas 55-26 in a Western Conference game played in Victoria back on Sept. 28, “starting with their defensive line through their talented linebackers to the best defensive secondary I have seen in years. On offense, Vancouver College has an outstanding offensive line, coupled with tremendous running backs and they are capable of keeping the opposing defence off balance with timely passes.”
Of course the Rams looked sensational last Friday in their 43-21 win on the road against No. 3 St. Thomas More, and with quarterback Kremler’s long history of excellence on the rug at B.C.Place, Rams’ nation has plenty of reasons to feel optimistic.
“Obviously Kremler is a problem for defences in this province,” said Vancouver College head coach Todd Bernett, whose team is attempting to extend its post-season journey in the ultimate quest of its first Subway Bowl title since 2010. “But Mt. Doug has some excellent defensive players in (Aiden) Bertuzzi and (Sebastian) Hansen. They are top notch at their positions and we have to know where they are on every play.”
Ask Bernett to single out a leadership group on his team, and perhaps because they have all grown so much together from a young team that missed playoffs last season, to a group with the title now within its sights, he says it’s not possible..
“I can not single out any of our kids,” he begins. “We only have one kid who received all provincial recognition. We have balance, and we have great team harmony. I can’t ID anyone who is more important than the guy next to him.”
The Rams have no doubt taken a cue from the gutsy play of Gideone Kremler, who has battled a sore knee for a large part of his career, and has just recently looked like his former self.
“During that 2016 season, Gideone suffered a significant knee injury but returned to action several weeks later, delaying surgery until after the season,” remember Townsend. “This was a true testament to Gideone’s tremendous courage, as well as his mental and physical toughness.”
His play, along with brother Zairech’s rise to blue-chip contributor, both as the team’s leading rusher and leading tackler, has held Mt. Douglas on course to a late-season peak and a chance to return to the Subway Bowl final for the first time since 2015, when the Grade 9 Gideone led the Rams past Vancouver College 34-17.
As well, referenced by Bernett, Hansen has been a glue-player throughout, his skills as a receiver, defensive back and kicker all influential in what has become an impressive two-game win streak with victories over both New Westminster and St. Thomas More.
7 p.m. — NEW WESTMINSTER vs. No. 4 TERRY FOX
Just because the odds of the sequel being more dramatic than the original seem almost infinitesimal, that doesn’t mean Act II won’t stand on its own as a classic.
Too much pride. Too much skill. Too much tradition.
For those reasons alone it will be a worthy successor to last season’s AAA championship final won on the final play of the game 15-14 by the Hyacks.
Although it is a difficult task be to find someone who actually loves both programs, if you are a football fan, you’ve had to appreciate the fact that this season, both the Hyacks and Ravens shed excuses, played hard-nosed football, and ultimately found a way to have to go through each other for the grand prize.
There really isn’t much more you can say.
“Fox is a well-coached team and they challenge you with their systems and physicality on both sides of the ball,” said New Westminster head coach Farhan Lalji. “Guys like Cade Cote, Jaden Severy, Matthew Hewa Baddege and Liam Cumarasamy are among the best players in the province and will be playing football at the next level, as I’m sure others there will be. I’m envious that despite their losses (graduation and the transfer of 2017’s dynamic starting quarterback Jevaun Jascobsen) they still have that much talent.”
The take from Terry Fox head coach Martin McDonnell?
“New West has worked hard to provide a deep program with all their community youth teams and have certainly have demonstrated what can be accomplished with hard work and dedication,” began McDonnell of a Hyacks team led by its trio of lineman Evan Nolli, quarterback Kinsale Philip and running back Broxx Comia.
“We envy their facilities and ‘the only school in town’ advantage that they have. Their hard work and dedication has them one of the top programs now. Xs and Os wise, they really know what they are doing. They’ve worked at it for years and are therefore a tough team to compete against when you are just a four-year program. They are well-coached and present a huge polished challenge on both sides of the ball.”
The smart money here says you might not see a harder hitting game the rest of the Subway Bowl playoffs, or perhaps until the pair meet again, whenever that may be.
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